CHENNAI:To safeguard the endangered sea turtles, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department has imposed a four-month ban on fishing up to five nautical miles along the coast of Chennai and seven other districts.
The ban will be effective from January 1 to April 30 (turtle breeding season) every year henceforth. “Not only mechanised vessels, even motorised country boats will not be allowed to take up any fishing activities during this period,” a senior Fisheries Department official confirmed.
The fishermen community and environmentalists are up in arms against prohibiting use of motorised boats since it would affect fishermen’s livelihood options.
They fear that this periodic prohibition in addition to the existing annual 45-day fishing ban (April 15 to May 30) for fish species propagation will bring fishing activities along coast almost to a grinding halt.
Over a million Olive Ridley sea turtles arrive and congregate along the Tamil Nadu coast in November and climb ashore for nesting between December and March. Most hatchlings emerge by May.
It is believed that only one out of 1,000 hatchlings fight all odds and attain adulthood.
Every year thousands of sea turtle die during fishing operations along the Indian coastline. Though sea turtles spend most of the time in the deep sea, they have to surface at least once in every 30-45 minutes to draw breath. During this process, they get accidentally trapped in propellers of the fishing boats, mostly the mechanised trawls and drown.
Despite several attempts including use of turtle excluder devices and sensitation of fishing community under Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project (TBGP), the mortality rate remained high along Tamil Nadu coast .
These turtles play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem of seas as they feed on overgrown submerged grasses covering and sprouting over the coral reefs and thereby providing substantial space for the juvenile fishes to inhabit and find safe haven in the reefs from their predators.
So, the Fisheries Department organised a meeting last year inviting environmentalists and fishermen association representatives to discuss and bring an end to this worrying trend.
At the meeting, it was decided that mechanised trawls which acted as a major threat to turtles would be banned.
However, the department on September 27 passed an order prohibiting fishing by using all kinds of fishing vessels around turtle breeding sites along the East Coast.
Supraja Dharini from the TREE Foundation said, “Though the ban on mechanised trawls was a welcome move, a uniform ban on all types of nets was unnecessary as sea turtles don’t get entangled in nets used by motorised fishing boats.”
Rather the department should have specifically banned three types of nets (gill nets, squid and ray fish) and allowed other traditional fishermen, she added.